by Stephanie Best
“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
Before moving to Spain to teach abroad, I refered to Orlando, Florida and Nashville, Tennessee as home. I had lived many years in both of these cities. I felt a deep level of familiarity and connectedness to these places. Living abroad changed me, and I didn’t realize how much it had until I returned to the United States. I could not merely go back to the person I was before and live the same life that I had lived before. I had changed, but the world that I left behind felt largely the same. We often talk about culture shock in addressing adjusting to a foreign country. However, reverse culture shock of former expatriates reintegrating into their home country after being abroad for an extended period of time is just as daunting of an experience.
Moving Back Home to the United States
When I first moved back to the United States, there were many things that I missed about Spain; the beautiful people, the tranquil culture, efficient public transportation, easy access to travel, international curriculum, late nights spent sipping sangria on a terrace, and beautiful churches just to name a few. However, missing Spain was not the most challenging aspect of reintegrating into the United States. The most challenges aspect was actually viewing the U.S through a new lens; a lens that seemed to be only visible to me.
A Different Way of Life
It is all too easy to take norms from one’s own culture for granted as “just the way things are.” That is until you acculturate to a different way of life. You then come home with more questions.
When I lived in Spain, there were things that I missed about the United States. Now that I am back in the United States, there are things that I miss about Spain. There are definitely some mindsets that I have adapted from living in Spain. For instance, it is often said in Spain that “Americans live to work and Spaniards work to live.” I personally can have a tendency to overcommit and stretch myself far too thin. This often leads to burnout. While having a strong work ethic is certainly a positive personal quality, I have come to see value in finding balance. There is a certain beauty in being able to sip sangria on a terrace with good friends and conversations for hours. To be truly present to those that you encounter means to not constantly be thinking of everything on your agenda.
Miami and the Unofficial Language
Upon moving back to the states, I ended up moving to Miami. Miami can best be described as a cross between Spanish and U.S culture. In many ways, this is what I enjoy most about living in Miami and has made reassimilation a bit easier. Spanglish is the unofficial language, Cubans actually do cafecito better, dancing is commonplace, and the concept of time is still circular. I am growing to appreciate the privilege of having all of the benefits and conveniences of living in my country of citizenship, while still living in a multicultural city that carries a strong international vibe.
Although reassimilation for former expatriates can present challenges of feeling like a foreigner in one’s own home country, I am grateful for the experiences that have broadened my worldview, taught me to question my assumptions, and have afforded me the empathy and understanding to serve international and immigrant students more effectively. Personal growth only happens outside of one’s comfort zone. Vale la pena.